Universal broadband in Henrico advances with $725,000 in federal funding

Access to fast, reliable internet in all corners of Henrico County is closer to reality, with a federal appropriation of $725,000.

U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan, of the 4th Congressional District, on Monday presented county officials with an oversized check for the amount to support a project that will extend broadband service to the outer edges of the Varina District. The $6.5 million project, which is under design and targeted for construction in 2025, will install 87 miles of fiber-optic cable to an estimated 412 addresses that are currently unserved.

Speaking outside the Varina Area Library, which has broadband access, McClellan said the issue is a matter of equity and inclusion.

Broadband Board With Border

“We know that the portions of America that are not connected are the most expensive to connect,” she said, “and that’s why, between the state’s VATI grants and the bipartisan infrastructure bill and this community project funding, the state and federal government are stepping in to help close that digital divide. And this will make a meaningful difference in the lives of Henrico County residents.”

Henrico is partnering with All Points Broadband on the effort, which last year was awarded a $501,620 grant through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI). The project is also being funded with $725,000 from Henrico, $1.5 million from All Points Broadband and $3.1 million from Dominion Energy.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Tyrone E. Nelson, of the Varina District, said broadband access is essential to life in the 21st century – a core service like electricity and water.

“Our youth need access to broadband for their schoolwork and for other learning activities,” he said. “Adults need it for work and daily tasks, like paying bills, shopping for their needs, accessing other services, scheduling doctor’s appointments, answering phone calls – they need it.”

Nelson recalled how a lack of access became a particular challenge when learning went online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Henrico County Public Schools ultimately provided Wi-Fi hotspots to families that needed them.

“As a county, we talk a lot about creating ‘One Henrico’ – building a community that sees, serves and respects everyone,” he said. “By making universal broadband a reality in Henrico County, we will be another step closer to that vision of ‘One Henrico.’”

Wilhelmina and James Greene, who live off Long Bridge Road, said they love rural living but have long been frustrated by landline telephone service that’s spotty and cellphone service that often requires callers to step outside to secure a connection. They’re hopeful those issues will be resolved with the extension of broadband service.

“If there’s a health issue, how can we contact someone?” Wilhelmina Greene told news reporters, before turning to McClellan, adding, “We really appreciate what you’re doing.”

The 412 addresses currently without access to broadband include 376 homes, 22 businesses and 14 other properties. Travis M. Sparrow, director of Henrico’s Department of Information Technology, said he expects the installation of fiber-optic cable to begin in early 2025.

Broadband 23
Press Conference, May 13, 2024
 
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